As the most senior former elected official in a Pakistani province, Sardar Akhtar Mengal knows a lot about how the country functions. The former Chief Minister of Balochistan sees billions of dollars in planned Chinese investments as a threat to his impoverished and insurgency-plagued homeland. Mengal, head of the ethno-nationalist Balochistan National Party, says that despite Islamabad's promises not all of Pakistan’s provinces will benefit from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
RFE/RL: What are your main concerns about the CPEC investments?
Akhtar Mengal: The government of China, and Chinese companies, [according to the deal with the Pakistani government] will invest almost $46 billion through CPEC projects. What is Balochistan's share in that? Without [the Arabian Sea port of] Gwadar, and the rest of Balochistan, CPEC will be incomplete. So, where will that $46 billion be spent in Balochistan – whether it is in the form of infrastructure, power generation or in the form of industrial zones? No one has yet presented a clear picture to us.
We also don't know what Balochistan’s share will be in the revenues generated by the Gwadar port, power projects, and tolls collected from motorways after the CPEC projects are complete.
Finally they [the federal government officials] are already saying that a skilled labour force doesn’t exist in Balochistan, and even unskilled labourers are in short supply, so there will be an influx of workers [from other regions of Pakistan] into Balochistan. Unless new legislation prevents such workers from voting or registering for local identity papers, we think the local [Baluch] residents of the area will turn into a minority.
These issues can be resolved only if the people of Balochistan are given ownership of the project.
RFE/RL: How would you support your claim that local residents will turn into a minority in your province?
Mengal: I have evidence. As [Gwadar] port became operational, efforts began to relocate its residents – majority of them are fishermen – almost 35 kilometres away from the coastal town. When you relocate a fisherman far away from the sea, how would he earn livelihood for his family? Gwadar city has turned into a high-security zone after the port became operational. [Local authorities] have ordered residents to make new identity cards.
RFE/RL: What kind of identity cards? Are they some kind of special security cards? Can you please elaborate?
Mengal: I mean, they’re [making these cards to] differentiate between the residents of Gwadar city and other areas of Balochistan. They say no one except the [original] residents of the city can enter [or live] in Gwadar.
RFE/RL: How can authorities regulate all movements around a city of 100,000 residents?
Mengal: The government has established 156 security checkpoints with sophisticated scanning devices on Gwadar's outskirts. People are allowed into the city only after a complete search and registration. The government has even allocated special funds in the current budget. They’re planning to declare the entire city a 'red-zone' [a high security zone where movement is controlled or forbidden].
RFE/RL: Have you shared your concerns with Pakistani authorities, particularly Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif?
Mengal: The reason behind the current crisis in Balochistan is that in 1953 they began exploiting its natural gas resources. While it has been constantly supplied to industries and homes across Pakistan, the residents of Balochistan are still deprived of it. Whenever they demand their rights, the government responds with a military operation which forces people [the Baluch] to think of cessation and separatism. So far there have been five military operations [since the creation of Pakistan in 1947].
Instead of resolving the crisis, such tactics further inflame marginalization. Instead of addressing our sense of deprivation, they have increased it by denying our rights. The best way forward would be to address existing grievances and questions about these [CPEC] projects. Alas, the government seems to have failed to comprehend the message that the people of Balochistan have wanted to put across for the past 68 years.